Coping with Stress and Anxiety
Many people are casually aware of Moore Counseling and Mediation Services (MCMS). I would be willing to guess that most people look at us as a drug and alcohol treatment center and aren’t aware of the range of other services we provide.
One of those services is our Employee Assistance Programs. These programs are provided to various businesses and non-profits who contract with MCMS. The goal of this service is to assist employees with concerns and problems before they become unmanageable.
One of our EAP counselors, Dr. Cecile Brennan, prepared a presentation entitled, “Self-Management of Anxiety (and Stress).” At this time, when so many of us are feeling anxious and stressed, I would like to share some of this information with you in the hope that you can manage these difficult times with greater ease.
First of all, let’s consider what stress is. Stress is a physiological reaction that occurs when there is a need to make extreme or prolonged physical or behavioral adjustments in order to cope with the environment. Stress is a response to an external stimulus and the feeling is the result of the release of stress hormones. Stress hormones prepare us for “battle”, for a confrontation with an uncertain environment. Some examples of stress could be muscle tension, rapid breathing, difficulty focusing and the inability to relax.
Anxiety is a person’s reaction to stress, and as opposed to stress, it begins inside of us. It may include negative or disturbing thoughts, feeling scared or out of control, and physical symptoms like sweating, trembling, tension in muscles or shortness of breath.
Now that we know what stress and anxiety are, what can we do to decrease or eliminate their effects during the time of COVID-19?
- First, get the facts and stay informed with the latest information. Governor DeWine has a press conference every weekday at 2:00 p.m. This is broadcast on many TV and radio stations and on PBS, channel 25. You can also go to ohio.covid.gov for the most current situation.
- Try to keep things in perspective Limit the time you spend watching or listening to upsetting media coverage. Take a break from watching the news and concentrate on the positive things in life and the things that you have control over. Remember that this is a temporary situation and life will slowly return to normal.
- Concentrate on your personal health. Wash your hands. When out, wear a mask and practice social distancing. Don’t touch your face. Get some exercise and when the weather permits, spend a little time outside.
- Stay connected to friends and relatives. Maintaining your social network can help give you a sense of normalcy and provide valuable outlets for sharing feelings and relieving stress. It will be good for you and for those you’re reaching out to.
- Take time to laugh. Spend some time watching comedies or going to websites that provide funny videos or stories. For years, Reader’s Digest has had a “Laughter is the Best Medicine” article. It really can be helpful.
- Be grateful. Rather than dwelling on our current restrictions, think of the different ways in which you are blessed. I count my blessings on a regular basis it and does make a difference. There are many studies that list the physical and psychological benefits of gratitude. It is also very encouraging for me to see the expressions of gratitude displayed by others. Luckily, good news stories are all over the news and the internet today. Take a few minutes and do a search for “good news” or “kindness” and you will find many heartwarming uplifting videos.
There are a few specific techniques that are also recommended. The first one is a distraction technique that you can use if you are feeling overwhelmed or out of control.
Try focusing on your senses: Try focusing on the things around you:
5 things you can see Count the number of ceiling tiles
4 things you can hear Count the number of floor tiles
3 things you can touch Count the number of brick on a wall
2 things you can smell Count the number of passing cars
1 long, deep breath inhaled Count backwards from 100
Try concentrating to distract:
Name as many words as possible beginning with the letters in your name
Subtract backwards from 100 in increments of seven
Memorize a poem, prayer or religious verse
Play a game which requires concentration: a card game, a crossword or wordfinder puzzle, a jigsaw puzzle or a video game.
In addition to distraction techniques, you may also want to try a relaxation technique.
Relaxation Techniques - Body: (Repeat each exercise 5 times. This process should take 10 – 15 minutes)
Feet – scrunch up your toes.
Legs - tighten your calf muscles by stretching your toes upwards. Squeeze your thigh muscles.
Bum – clench your buttocks together.
Hands – clench your fists.
Arms – keep your hands in a fist and tense your arm muscles as if you are showing off your muscles.
Stomach – pull your tummy in as tight as comfortable possible.
Chest – take a deep, long breath.
Shoulders – raise your shoulders in a big shrug.
Mouth – open your mouth side and stretch out your jaw.
Head – close your eyes tightly and raise your eyebrows as far as you can.
Neck – move your head around to the right and then around to the left.
Relaxation Techniques – Breathing:
Find a quiet environment and sit comfortably with your eyes closed.
Breath in through your nose for 4 seconds.
Focus on your chest expanding as you inhale.
Hold this breath in for 2 seconds.
Breathe out through your mouth for 6 seconds.
Focus on your body softening as your breath leaves your body.
And finally, if these simple suggestions and techniques don’t work to reduce your stress or anxiety, reach out to your primary care physician, a mental health professional or a clergy person to provide you with the support that you need at this difficult time.
Dr. Martina Moore
Dr. Martina Moore holds a Ph.D. in counseling, education, and supervision. She is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and a Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor-Clinical Supervisor. She holds a Master’s degree from John Carroll University in Community Counseling and Human Services, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Notre Dame College in Psychology. She is a trained Gestalt Family Therapist, from the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. Martina is also a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP), a Certified Mediator, and a Certified Employee Assistance Professional (CEAP). Dr. Moore is faculty at John Carroll University where she is the substance use disorder coordinator in the Department of Counseling. She is also an instructor at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland.